We're a couple of weeks away from publication (eBook and paperback this time) and a number of you have requested a sneak peek. So here's the artwork and a tale from chapter 8: the day I had to cover in the infant playground.
An infant teacher’s away today so I’m doing her playtime duty. I usually do duty in the ‘junior’ playground where footballs and skipping ropes dominate, although there are often also a fair number of football cards being swapped, dolls being dressed and undressed again, tops spun and cuddly toys dismembered. I know the score in the junior playground – well, as long as Toni hasn’t lost another football.
The infant playground is a whole new dimension. Here, I’m less at ease. Well, to be honest, I’ve not much idea what’s going on. Swarms of ridiculously small children bumble around, bumping into each other, like wind-up toys with pieces of their mechanisms missing. Every so often a bumbling child will collapse onto the tarmac as the wiring between brain and legs gets mangled somewhere near their belly-button. It’s my ‘duty’ to help, as Miss Dolly (who’s on duty with me) has gone to ‘powder her nose’…
‘Are you OK?’ I try gamely.
‘Shall we get you up and go and see Miss María?’
A large crowd of small spectators gathers. ‘Do you know who this is?’ I ask the spectators. I might as well ask the trees. The children look at me like I’m an exhibit in the London Dungeon: they’re hugely interested but slightly frightened. I think it’s ‘cos I’m a ‘man’. They don’t get many men around here. I might not come back in a hurry.
The wailing subsides and damaged child sits up. There’s no blood, but a fair bit of snot.
‘Go to the toilet and bring me some tissue,’ I order no one in particular. They ignore me. Actually, one of them is stroking my head. I have quite a tight crop so I guess it might feel like a hedgehog. I turn to face the child who’s stroking me. It’s a boy. He smiles although he doesn’t have many teeth. He looks at me like I am a hedgehog, or any other dumb animal who’ll let you stroke them for as long as you like. He cocks his head to one side like he’s pitying my inability to sort things out. I smile back at him.
Child on floor suddenly gets up and staggers away across the playground into the melee. He’s like a mini-Frankenstein fresh off the operating table stumbling blindly into everything in his meandering path. Now I’m left on the ground with a crowd of ten or fifteen children staring at me. Two of them are now stroking my head. One of them asks me a question. I can tell it’s a question from the intonation and the fact that they’re pointing at my head. The language they’re using, however, is a mystery. A small girl with curly hair has all her fingers in her mouth, like she thinks she’s sucking a giant lolly; I hope she’s not planning on stroking my head in the near future.
Suddenly two or three start to point. And laugh. Before I can say, ‘What the hell are you laughing at?’ they’ve lost all interest in me and are starting to walk behind me. I turn around and see my career disappear.
Behind me is the entrance to the school. It’s sealed by a metal-barred gate, about four-metres wide and two-metres high. Whenever someone wants to enter the school they buzz through to the office who’ll open the gate. The gate is opening now, sliding silently to the left, as a delivery truck waits outside with hazards flashing and engine rumbling. My problem is that six or seven children have climbed onto the gate and are enjoying a slow ride – towards a quite nasty-looking mechanism which includes some pretty large metal cogs and gears. It’s a bit like a James Bond film where James Bond is tied to a board which is moving towards a circular saw spinning at great speed. The children who have been watching (and stroking) me are now pelting towards the gate to join in the relatively-low jinks. Bloody hell!
‘Get off that gate!’ I yell, wondering if any of them are capable of such a feat without risking dislocated joints or broken bones. The gate isn’t moving that quickly but, as I’ve already seen, these kids can fall over if a cloud passes overhead. ‘Get off!’ I yell again, to equal effect (none). I rush over to the site of international incident involving possible death or maiming of dozens of small children under the care of J.J.Dean, and start plucking children off the gate from the side nearest the cogs and gears. While I’m doing this I shout at the other children who are approaching me on the gate as it continues it’s journey. The children are having a wonderful time, smiling and screaming back at me; they must think I’m just joining in the ballyhoo. One boy has a particularly tight grip on the bars. I have to peel his fingers off before setting him down on the ground and reaching for the next laughing child who is inches from death but doesn’t give a monkey’s. Within seconds there’s another boy with an equally strong grip – until I notice that it’s the same boy who’s just found another space on the gate and has jumped back on.
‘Again!’ he shouts, nodding towards his fingers which are turning white with the effort.
I’m finally saved when the gate stops, fully open. I breathe a long sigh before noticing my next problem. Luckily, the driver isn’t planning to drive his truck into the playground (I wouldn’t have bet against it), but he is going to carry his packet to the office while the office staff leave the gate open until he returns. I stand in the middle of the entrance facing into the playground. A dozen children, twenty now, maybe thirty, line up facing me, staring beyond me into the orange groves on the other side of the road. I honestly can’t see what they’re staring at, they come in and out of this gate every day, it’s not like I’ve opened Narnia’s wardrobe for them to look into.
A girl points. I look around. There’s a dog.
Wild dogs – well, OK, strays – are quite common around here. This one is a brown 57 who doesn’t look dangerous. No, it’s worse. Much worse. He looks playful. His head is cocked to one side, a bit like the little boy who was stroking me five minutes ago when my problems couldn’t possibly get any worse. The dog takes a tentative step towards me. Oh god!
‘Get away!’ I say, ridiculously in English. ‘¡Vete!’ I try, which I’m pretty sure means get outa here you mangy mongrel. He prances towards me like I want him to play. ‘Goo on! Get ouda here!’ He jinks past me and is in.
Utter bedlam. Complete chaos. Imagine aliens invade a busy IKEA firing lasers. Kids are screaming in all directions, bumping and bashing into the trees and each other, tripping over balls and ants. Within seconds there are half a dozen on the floor nursing cut knees and god-knows what else. I’m powerless to do anything except guard the entrance to make sure none of them run out onto the road. Where the hell is Miss Dolly?
I spot the van driver coming back across the playground looking bemused at the carnage that is underway.
‘Perro!’ (dog) I say as he passes me, like this will explain everything. He raises his head in an ‘Oh, right,’ sort of expression. Then he puts his fingers in his mouth and whistles the loudest whistle I’ve ever heard. The dog appears from the mayhem and pelts towards him provoking another epidemic of tripping and bumping into each other. Driver gives me a little salute as he climbs into his cab. The gate starts to close.
Dolly saunters out as the bell goes and the gate clicks shut. She’s not exactly hurrying to begin with but her pace slows as she takes in the battlefield. There are children hobbling towards her pointing at their grazed knees and elbows and wailing like zombies. She looks at me. Her look says I leave you alone for five minutes…
Next time they’re looking for some sucker to do duty in the infant playground? I’ve got a dentist’s appointment for root canal.
If you haven't already, why not read Zen Kyu Maestro: An English Teacher's Spanish Adventure, (Monday Books) available from Amazon. It's the prequel to Cucarachas.
The first year of an English teacher, teaching a class of lively Spanish seven-year-olds, in English, in Spain.
What could possiobly go wrong?
“The detailed way Dean has described the atmosphere of this little city in Spain is magnificent.” Salford University, The Salfordian.
For a free sample chapter of Zen Kyu Maestro, click HERE.
The sequel, Cucarachas or Cucuruchos, available soon as an eBook and paperback from Amazon.